Archive for June 2008

Not Without My Water

June 23, 2008

It’s rainy season on Dominica and I finally understand why some people might consider the island a third-world country. On Friday my first-world brain had a double-dose of reality. First, we had a patient presentation in biochem lecture. Continuing the blood week theme, our professors had arranged for us to meet a young man who was one of two hemophiliacs in his family, possibly one of the only two hemophiliacs on the island. The poor guy and his younger cousin sat at the front of the lecture hall as he told us about how he’d basically lost the use of his lower right leg and foot because he’d tripped while running and internal bleeding had destroyed the muscles. The professor told us about the treatment options available for those with blood disorders on the island; apparently there are four treatments that have been developed but only the two least expensive ones are available at Princess Margaret Hospital, the most advanced medical center on Dominica. The young man, only 18, mentioned how his constant medical issues had prevented him from regularly attending school and how more than anything, he’d like to have a computer since all he can do now is sit at home. How horrible it must have been to be in a room with over a hundred computers (every student owns a laptop). I couldn’t help but feel my privilege like a keen jab in the ribs while I typed my notes.

It had been storming all Thursday night and intermittently throughout the morning and though the electricity flickered a few times, I was used to being without power. The campus generators were functional so all was well, or so I thought. We received an email informing us that the campus water supply had been shut off and at first, I thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until I got back to the campus proper that I realized what it meant to have no water supply – no faucets. No drinking fountains. Going from bathroom to bathroom, I kept wondering why every single toilet was full of waste -ladies’ rooms aren’t usually that gross- then it dawned on me – there’s no water to flush them. Rather than stay on campus, I went back home to my apartment, only to discover that I didn’t have running water either. Luckily, there was enough left in my toilet for one flush. And that was it for 20 hours.

I can only think of one other time when I actually was concerned about not having an adequate water supply and even then, it was because our boiler was broken so we didn’t have hot water. We could still brush our teeth, take showers (albeit cold ones) and use the bathroom. Apparently, nasty storms knock out the power and water supply several times during the rainy season. Regular people don’t have the luxury of generators or utilities coordinators. They just have to go home and wait. It really makes a person think about how much they take for granted…

Christmas Cake

June 20, 2008

As far as most people are concerned, 26 isn’t one of the big birthdays. There are no milestones attached to becoming one year older than a quarter century – the best you get is maybe some nice cards and money from your parents and less hassle when you try to rent a car. However, there is a sort of significance to turning 26 in Japan – when a woman turns 26, she becomes what is known as a “christmas cake.”

Still tasty on the 26th?
Before I explain exactly what a Christmas cake is, I’ll have to explain a bit about how the Japanese observe “Western” holidays. It’s kinda trendy to celebrate Western holidays in Japan and some of the commercial biggies like Valentine’s Day, Christmas and more recently, Halloween, are pretty popular. The funny thing is, cultural significance sometimes gets lost on the way across the ocean and without the reason for the ritual, the ways in which the holidays are observed can seem a bit strange/wacky/hilarious to expats. One year when I was living in Hyogo prefecture, I saw Lovely Halloween Pocky at my local supermarket and was practically rolling on the floor because on the packaging for the pumpkin-flavored ones, a scary-looking jack-o-lantern was featured (okay) but on the strawberry ones, there was a strawberry with a jack-o-lantern face (um…) and on the melon ones, there was a cantaloupe with a jack-o-lantern face 😀 . They’ve since replaced melon with milk-flavored pocky and the package has a little ghost holding a pitcher of milk, so I guess they’re getting it.

Anyway, Christmas in Japan has absolutely nothing to do with Christ and everything to do with love and romance. Strangely enough, December 25th is one of the most popular days for visiting love hotels. There are even Christmas-themed love hotels – people can enjoy a little holiday spirit when they tryst all year long. For the most part, on Christmas, people generally snuggle up with their sweethearts and eat a delicious Christmas cake. The thing about a Christmas cake is that although it looks great, who wants one on the 26th?

Although antiquated, there still exists the view that a young lady should be married (or at least engaged) by 25 and that once she turns 26, no matter how lovely, successful or intelligent she may be, she’s starting to get stale (if she’s still unmarried and childless at 30, she’s a loser dog). 25 seems a bit young for matrimony to me, but I suppose I have begun to consider getting married and having a family a bit more seriously. I’m a person who likes to make plans and I always planned on being married by 30 and being a mom by 35 (before the maternal and paternal age effect risks spike). Of course now, considering my future medical career, I’ll have to squeeze wedding vows and childbirth in while completing my residency (although according to a pal here who shares the same birthday, the best time to get married and have children for med students is right before the beginning of clinical rotations. It also helps to marry a person whose work will allow him/her to take paternity/maternity leave). While I’m not quite ready to start perusing bridal magazines and picking out floral arrangements (well…the plan is to have white roses and ivy), I suppose I wouldn’t be opposed to an acceptable suit, were one presented by an acceptable young man.

Even though my cake has 26 candles, thanks to my lovely parents, most of the time, people assume that I’m around 19 or 20. If I continue to age so gracefully, when I actually am 30, I’ll still look 25, so I’ll be a loser dog in disguise!

唇 and Bags of Hemoglobin

June 18, 2008

Apparently, the most popular post on this blog is one that has nothing to do with my journey through med school – it’s the one about how lovely my lips are. And while I do maintain that they are quite nice, it kinda creeps me out that the picture of them gets searched almost every day. Coincidence? Or internet sheistiness? In any case, that post has been protected. I can’t think of anyone I know who’d really want to stare at a picture of my mouth everyday but if you’re really interested, leave a comment here and I’ll reveal the password.

In other news, it’s Blood Week for Semester 1 students – it started with the Mini on Monday and has continued with lectures about blood in biochem and histology (and will continue through Friday). The Mini I answer key went up yesterday – I was so anxious to know my score, I tabulated it last night. The good news is that I didn’t get all the histology questions wrong! But, I did get enough of them wrong to realize that I really ought to have spent more time reviewing those lectures. In any rate, I’m not unsatisfied with my performance. Next time, I’ll procrastinate less and spend a bit more time on histo when I prepare.

My advice for incoming students on Mini I:


Mini I

June 16, 2008

For anyone who’s been missing the updates (the two or three of you, bless your hearts), apologies. Today, I fought the first battle of the semester (a.k.a. Mini I) and while I may not have managed an A, my head is bloody, but unbowed. Actually, I’ll be perfectly content to get above the MPS (minimum passing score) on this one. I’ll admit it – I didn’t study until my eyes bled. I wasn’t a complete slacker but I didn’t stick to my schedule and it may have cost me precious points. However, the exam, but for a few completely out-of-the-blue-yonder questions, was fair. If I get all of the histology questions wrong, it’s my own fault for not devoting enough time to review.

So on it goes, with classes as usual beginning bright and early tomorrow morning. I opted out of attending the post-exam beach bash because a) they ran out of free t-shirts, b) my adorable new swimsuit has not yet arrived (:x USPS!) and c) I wasn’t exactly keen on cavorting with a bunch of tipsy classmates with whom I’m not particularly close. I did indulge in a lovely brownie sundae with some pals and that was enough unwinding for me. I’m not sure when the results of the exam will be available (will they be posted for all to see?!) but they will determine how happy my birthday is this year. Of course, if the results aren’t very good, at least the ‘happy birthday’ wishes from friends and family on Friday will cheer me up…

頭にくる Part 3

June 5, 2008

Here’s a quick Japanese lesson –

頭にくる [atama ni kuru] is an expression used to denote anger, aggravation or annoyance. It focuses on the moment or occurrence of anger and is often used in reference to an event or situation. It is used the way English speakers use the expression ‘ticks me off’ or ‘pisses me off’, so if for example, you wanted to say “Dr. Martin forgot about this morning’s 10 o’clock lecture so now they’re doing it at 11?! Man, that really ticks me off! I had plans to study…”, in Japanese, it’d be something like this:


<<Martinsensei ga kesa no jûji no kôgi o wasureta no de jûichiji ni suru?! Mô, hônto ni atama ni kuru! Benkyô suru yotei ga atta no ni…>>

Literally, the expression translates as ‘comes to [my] head’. I love Japanese phrases and figures of speech. There’s another one for anger, 腹が立つ [hara ga tatsu], which literally translates as ‘[my] stomach stands up’. Haven’t you ever been so mad that your stomach just stood up? Anyway, I was thinking about the former expression, both literally and figuratively, because of the things that came to my head today.



June 3, 2008

While walking from the ATM at the campus center yesterday, I found two adorable little mangoes that had fallen from a tree near the seaside deck. They were perfectly ripe, plump and blushing, so I picked them up and took them with me to classroom 1, where I spent the bulk of my day, trying to make sense of all the histology lectures we’ve had over the past three weeks. Prior to that, I spent 2 hours in the anatomy lab, going over the muscles, nerves, arteries and clinical correlates we’d covered since the beginning of the semester. Foolishly, I hadn’t worn my scrubs and while I was poking around the muscles of the erector spinae, some body juice splashed down the leg of my favorite pair of jeans. I can still smell it. Guess these are the breaks…

Having been here for a month, I find myself occasionally reflecting on the good and bad of being at Ross. Attending med school on Dominica is kind of like being at a nature retreat. The beach is literally right in our backyard. Walking to and from campus and the annex provides good exercise. Succulent tropical fruit is available in abundance (and is cheaper than less-healthy snacks). Discounting the sleep-deprivation, caffeine consumption and other bad habits of typical med school students, it’s almost impossible not to live a healthier life. Unlike some Caribbean islands, Dominica isn’t overrun by tourists. It’s peaceful, quiet, isolated – a perfect study environment. Air conditioning and electricity on campus are free. Most apartments provide cleaning and laundry services so really, all students have to do is get up, get dressed, go to school and hit the books.

However, idyllic as it sounds, sometimes I find myself thinking what I thought that rainy February night as I walked home from the Ross information seminar at MIT. It almost seems too good to be true. And it is.